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Berge, Jenniges at work on cover crops

By Carol Stender
cstender@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 11/21/2012 1:09 PM

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GLENWOOD, Minn. —Dan Jenniges and Jess Berge planted cover crops this year, but the west central Minnesota farmers had very different outcomes.

At a cover crop field day last week, Jenniges said a lack of rainfall caused spotty emergence of the rapeseed and purple top turnips he'd planted in one of his Glenwood farm's cornfields.

Berge, meanwhile, had timely rains on his Sunburg farmland. He bagged a good oat and pea crop for silage and then followed it with rapeseed and turnips. His cattle and sheep are grazing on it this fall.

The two are taking part in a Chippewa 10% Project's study on cover crops. The project's goal is to get more diversity on ag land within the Chippewa River Watershed and find more profit for farmers, said project coordinator Julia Ahlers Ness.

Rainfall was key to cover crop establishment in the first year of the study, the farmers said.

Jenniges looked between the rows of corn stubble where the rape and turnips were supposed to flourish. He'd planted the corn in May in both 22-inch and 30-inch rows for a comparison on which width would be best, Jenniges said. The Belgrade Co-op applied the rapeseed and turnips with an airflow applicator at a rate of 15 pounds of rape and 5 pounds of turnips with 97 pounds of urea, 33 pounds of potash and 100 pounds of limestone.

"I figured the rain would make the seed germinate and set in the ground," he said. "We forgot that sometimes it doesn't rain...Overall, it was a good plan."

Despite the challenges, he'd "absolutely" plant the cover crop again. He has, after all, done it in the past planting millet after peas and sorghum after peas. The millet was cheaper and didn't need fertilizer, he said. The sorghum didn't offer as much tonnage.

Next year he'd like to leave more of the stalk and get more light to the cover crop.

Jenniges has 250 to 320 cow/calf pairs where he has feeders and backgrounds. Cattle feed on the cropland through the winter. It's a two mile walk back to the farm for water. In April, when the land gets muddy, he moves them to sod for calving.

Berge has an 80 cow/calf herd with 250 ewes. On his 40 acre field, he planted 60 pounds of oats and 50 pounds of peas on April 6 at a cost of $99 per acre with commercial fertilizer at $57 an acre, he said.

On June 30, he harvested 9.8 tons of oats and peas at 62 percent moisture. It will be used for winter feed.

He planted the cover crop July 5at a rate of 9 pounds for rapeseed and 9 pounds for purple top turnips with an airflow applicator. He covered the field lightly with a cultivator.

The field was covered with rape and turnips. When he first put sheep on the pasture, lambs quarter existed in the field. The sheep grazed that down and tend to eat the tops of the turnips. Sheep graze on the field in the morning and are switched with cattle in the afternoon. The cattle will go for the bulbs, he said.

The rape keeps growing, Berge said. The livestock had eaten it down, but regrowth occurred.

Berge called the Pipestone Lamb and Wool Program to get feed values on the crops. The 2.76 tons per acre it yielded on a dry matter basis gave the oats and peas a 160 ton grass hay value.

The Berges have the type of operation they do — with livestock, crops and cover crops —because it's a good fit for their farm, labor and equipment. They've found value in using cover crops and grazing.

"There was a value here in what we did," Berge said. "We don't have a lot of equipment so you start doing this stuff. You find you have more opportunities. "